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Memorial Day - Flowers, Flag Etiquette, and Other Fun Facts

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

We are having a Memorial Day picnic and I thought it would be nice to have some flowers to decorate the table. I plan to buy red and white carnations, and some type of blue flowers in order to be patriotic. My sister says that the appropriate flowers are red poppies. Also, I had planned to take our son to the local cemetery to place some little flags on a few graves of some veterans, but my sister says that wouldn't be right unless we knew the person. Is she correct about all of this?


Sister knows all?

Dear Sister knows all,

Although red poppies are recognized as the Memorial Day flower, you can decorate with any flowers that you choose.

Taking your son to visit the cemetery to place little flags on the graves of veterans whether you know them or not is a very nice gesture. However, always check with the cemetery before placing anything except flowers because they may have a policy prohibiting items that could interfere with mowing around graves and headstones.

Celebrating Memorial Day weekend is popular because it not only honors those who have died in service to our country, but also marks the unofficial beginning of summer and for many, the end of the school year.


There are many fun facts and trivia about Memorial Day. Below are some facts from,, and

1. WHEN FIRST CELEBRATED: Originally known as Decoration Day, it was first observed on May 30, 1868, as a day to set aside and honor the nation's Civil War casualties by decorating their graves with flowers and flags.

2. WHY LAST MONDAY IN MAY: The last Monday of May was chosen to coincide with the time when flowers would be blooming all over the country.

3. FIRST STATE TO RECOGNIZE: New York was the first state to officially recognize Memorial Day in 1873.

4. FLAG ETIQUETTE: On Memorial Day, the flag should be half-staff until noon, then raised to the top of the staff.

5. WHY RED POPPIES: The custom of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day started in 1915 and was inspired by Moina Michael's poem "In Flanders Fields": "We cherish too, the Poppy red / That grows on fields where valor led, / It seems to signal to the skies / That blood of heroes never dies."

6. SOUTHERN STATES: The Southern states that seceded to start the Civil War refused to honor the dead on Memorial Day until after World War I when observances began to honor those who had died in all of America’s wars. Until that point the holiday honored only those who fought and died in the Civil War.

7. FLAGS ON GRAVES: In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, a practice to this day. Since the late 1950s, on the Thursday just before Memorial Day, around 1200 soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry place small American flags at each of more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.

8. CANDLES: beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights (the Luminaria Program).

9. NATIONAL HOLIDAY: In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.

10. MOMENT OF SILENCE: In 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance Resolution passed. At 3pm on Memorial Day, all Americans are asked to observe a moment of remembrance and respect by pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to taps.

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